Parent Peer Support Workers

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What is children and young people’s parent carer peer support?

One of the best things about being a parent or carer is that you join a very large club of people who have similar experiences to you and who can help you think things through. You may have experienced or even delivered peer support from or to other parents and carers. The conversations that happen in baby groups, with friends and family, at the school gates where one person gives another support and advice based on their experiences is all peer support.

But what happens if your child or young person begins to develop emotional or mental health problems? Some of us find it difficult to talk to others, or feel ashamed. Sometimes you don’t know if what is being suggested will improve matters or make them worse. Sometimes services - whether in school or the NHS - can’t help, and sometimes when they do it can leave parents and carers feeling like they are to blame. But for some of us who have learned the hard way how to help our child deal with their mental health issues, the things we most want to do are to help other parents in the same situation, to offer hope, and to share what got us through difficult times.

Many children and young people’s mental health services recognise how important parents and carers are in supporting not just their own child, but others who are trying to do the same for their children. Parent Carer Peer Support (PCPS) networks are growing across the country, and the Charlie Waller Trust is helping this gather pace and momentum. We particularly want to make sure that PCPS workers get the right training and support, not just so they can offer the best help possible but also so that they themselves feel comfortable in this role.

Diverse group of young people holding banner of positive words

What sort of things can trained parent/carer peer support workers do?

They can:

  • Offer one to one practical advice and support to give parents/carers confidence in their ability to help their child and confidence in the mental health service their child receives
  • Use lived experience to provide hope and encouragement to other families to help them identify their own strengths, needs and goals
  • Develop or enhance existing support in a variety of ways e.g. face-to-face and digital support groups, one-to-one support, support via social media platforms, email, and text-based systems.
  • Provide needs-led, inclusive and targeted support to different communities e.g. dads/male carers, adoptive families, black and ethnic minority groups from a workforce that is culturally aware of the needs of family members since they have similar experiences and come from the same community
  • Understand and support parents/carers to navigate the CYPMH system to ensure access to the most appropriate support for their needs
  • Support and extend the work of clinical teams by ensuring evidence-based information and interventions are explained, understood, shared and promoted in a setting that is collaborative and non-judgmental which helps families to adopt the strategies and use them
  • Work in partnership with mental health services across the whole pathway, from raising awareness regarding early signs e.g. by co-delivering training sessions within education settings, to supporting those waiting for assessment/treatment and families in crisis situations
  • Aim to improve the outcomes for children and young adults by supporting parents/carers to engage and build trust with services, and where appropriate supporting the development of collaborative care plans
  • Assist families to have their voices heard and feed into CYPMH service/policy developments and help build the evidence base for family led interventions around CYPMH
The parent peer supporters (PPS) engage parents in a way statutory service cannot. Parents trust their shared experiences. The PPS often discover issues with parents that they are unlikely to disclose to services but really block their engagement e.g. literacy problems, previous negative experiences, lack of confidence in working with professionals, feeling unable to speak up and advocate for themselves and their children. PPS often work with complex families as they are the place families go to when they are at their most desperate. PPS are very often highly skilled people with a wealth of knowledge about services across the area and how parents can access the help they need

If you are a Children’s Mental Health Service, a voluntary sector organisation or a Family Hub, why should you add a trained lived experience parent carer peer support worker to your team?

Lived experience parent carer peer support workers can offer a safe, non-judgmental space for other parents and carers to learn from each other.

They can rapidly help boost capacity in the system, building on partnership working with voluntary sector partners and encourage mutual aid. These interventions have been widely welcomed – a recent evaluation using standardised and validated measures as well as qualitative interviews concluded that over 90% of those who responded would recommend a parent/carer peer support service if a friend needed similar help, and over 80% agreed that a parent/carer peer support service knew how to help with their problems or were working together to help with their problems.

We know that...

  • Parents and carers attending these groups report greater confidence in knowing how to help their child and to access appropriate support rather than presenting in crisis and reduced anxiety.
  • The pandemic has increased demand by parents/carers for support across all conditions and in many areas increased waiting times for help. This can be magnified in communities that have in the past struggled to access timely support – for example parents and carers from minority communities, where they and or their children are LGBTQ, have neurodevelopmental issues.
  • Peer support for parents/carers with children, young people or young adults who are experiencing mental health problems is a distinct and different need from adult peer support work. But like adult peer support workers, a parent/carer peer support worker draws on their lived experience of their child’s mental health problems and it is essential that they are trained and supervised so that they, and the service they offer, are safe and effective.

Interested in joining the PLACE network for Parent and Carer services?

Charlie Waller offers support to parents and carers and professional organisations who are looking to set up groups for parents of children with emotional or mental health issues.

For more information on our offer, please contact us.

If you'd like to add your group to the PLACE Network group list, please submit the details here.

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